Tag Archives: Crime

Freeze your credit; if you live in Indiana, that is

Map of USA with Indiana highlighted
Image via Wikipedia

A credit freeze is a really nice tool in the fight against identity theft. Essentially, a freeze makes it impossible for anyone to open new credit accounts in your name even if they have all your personal information.

Of course, it adds a little extra work if you want to open a new line of credit, but I think it’s a fair trade. Besides, didn’t we all learn a little lesson in 2008 about what happens when it’s too easy to obtain credit?

At any rate, it turns out if you’re an Indiana resident you can request a credit freeze free of charge. It’s a right provided by Indiana law to Indiana residents. I don’t know if other states have this type of thing in place (after all, I can’t do research on 49 attorneys general in the time I’m taking to write this). If you ain’t from around here, check online with your state’s attorney general to find out.

You can request a freeze either by paper mail or online. More information is available at the Indiana AG’s website. Check it out today!

The grandchild-in-trouble scam claims another victim

According to a story in today’s edition of the NWI Times, a local senior citizen lost $3,200 to an overseas scammer.

This time, the victim got a call from someone that claimed to be his grandson. The caller said he had been arrested in Madrid, Spain, and needed the victim to wire $3,200 to bail him out.

After the victim wired money the first time, he got another call saying the transfer hadn’t gone through. He was asked to return to Western Union and wire another $3,200. It was at this point that the Western Union agent noticed that the first transfer had been successful, and the scam was uncovered.

This type of scam seems to be showing up more lately, which is to be expected in a world economy that’s seen better days. And let’s face it—it’s an easy scam to pull off, and the chances of being caught are low, so it’s an attractive crime to a lot of people.

You have to make sure your older relatives are aware of this scam. It doesn’t take much work to find out the names of grandchildren these days. Plus, an experienced crook doesn’t even need to know the grandchild’s name in advance; they’ll get the victim to say it at some point.

Tell them, “If you ever get a call from one of us saying they’re in trouble in some foreign country, and they’re asking you to wire money, please call us at home before you do anything, because it’s probably a scammer.”

Grandparents are more likely to have trouble hearing than others (at least for now, until earbud headphones have their way), an especially on the telephone, so it’s easier to trick them into thinking a caller is their grandchild. This goes double if the child in question was seven the last time they saw Meemaw. Have your kids called their grandparents lately? Maybe it’s time.

Of course, that’s not just a fraud prevention tip.

Alleged national fraud ring busted: let’s do the math!

This item appeared in today’s edition of the NWI Times.

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s a summary: four people from Indianapolis were arrested for allegedly running a fraud ring in which involved adding themselves to other people’s financial accounts. Four others (two from Northwest Indiana) are also named in the case.

They are alleged to have taken around $200,000 over the course of three years. The first thing I thought when I saw that number was, “Isn’t that an awfully small amount?”

Assuming the facts are as stated in the article, and that all eight people are guilty (which has not been proven yet, I know—this is a purely educational discussion), let’s do the math:

$200,000 divided by eight people equals $25,000 for each person. That, divided by the three years, equals $8,333.33 each per year.

That’s not exactly a major haul, is it?

Think about it:

$8,333.33 divided by 52 weeks per year equals $160.26 per week. Divide that by the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and these people would have had to work just over 22 hours per week at minimum wage to match their income from this fraud scheme.

In other words, they could have worked a drive-through window for less than 4½ hours a day (assuming a five-day week) and come out ahead, with the added advantage of not having to serve jail time for doing it.

I wonder how hard they worked to create and maintain this scheme. I’ll bet it involved a lot more sweat than handing sacks of burgers to people in cars would have, though.

Again, we have a justice system in this country, so these people could all be completely innocent. I just thought the math was kind of interesting.

Mistaken identity arrests: it happens a lot more often than you’d think.

According to an item posted on CNN, cases of mistaken identity in criminal arrests happen a lot more often than you might think.

The specific case highlighted in the article was not related to identity theft; rather, the victim simply had a very similar name to that of a robbery suspect. However, she spent five days in jail before her husband was able to bail her out. It also took two years to get her criminal record expunged.

Mistakes like this are apparently relatively common, due to identity theft and errors. You might not be able to control who has a name just like yours, or who types in a name incorrectly, but you can still take steps to prevent identity theft that could lead to your wrongful arrest. It may not eliminate the possibility, but at least you can try to minimize it.

At the very least, the article shows that getting arrested for something you didn’t do isn’t fun. Stay vigilant.

Repair scams: never let strangers into your home.

Just this past Wednesday in Highland, Indiana, two men gained entry into a residence and stole cash. They claimed to be testing the water for bacteria after an alleged line break.

Once again, a real-life case reminds us of one of the most important rules of scam and fraud prevention: never let anyone inside your house unless you know, beyond reasonable doubt, who they are, why they are there, and what they are doing.

It’s not enough to just believe what they say. You have to verify.

Any time a municipal employee needs access to a residence, they will be carrying identification. Always ask to see it. If you are still unsure, call the department they represent and confirm that someone is supposed to be making visits that require entry. Be polite about it—there’s no need to be combative at this point—but have them wait outside and lock your door while you call.

If they bolt, that’s an obvious sign of a scam in progress. Call the police instead. If they become angry or abusive, that could be a sign, but it could also just mean you’re dealing with a bad employee. Make the call and report the behavior while you’re at it. You don’t have to let anyone in—tell the city to send somebody nice. They work for you.

Be extremely cautious if two people are standing outside your door; a lot of times these crooks work in pairs. However, if there is only one person and you decide to let them in, go ahead and lock the door while they’re in the house. Sometimes a second person is waiting to enter while the resident is distracted.

For obvious reasons, these scams (which are really just robberies) tend to target people who live alone, since they can’t be in two places at once. They also specifically target the elderly, so make sure your friends, neighbors and relatives are aware of the dangers. These crimes can occur anywhere.

Finally, if you’ve let someone in your house and realized your mistake before they’re gone, don’t let them know you’ve caught on. A cornered criminal can be a dangerous object, even though it appears most of these perpetrators are relatively nonviolent. Get a good description of the person, their vehicle and a license plate number, if possible. Wait until they’re gone and call the police once you know you’re safe. Your health is far more important than your possessions or your cash.

How to avoid employment identity theft.

I’ve said many times before that not all identity theft is strictly financial, although other types of theft may have financial implications.

Medical identity theft is used to obtain services or to bilk insurance companies out of money for services that were never given. It can lead to collections activity against the victim, and at worse, false medical records that could be hazardous to the victim’s life.

Criminal identity theft can lead to victims being incarcerated and stuck with false arrest records that are difficult to expunge. It can lead to loss of job opportunities, and in some cases the victim has to hire a criminal defense attorney to get the situation under control.

Employment identity theft can, on the surface, seem like an almost victimless crime. When someone simply uses your personal information to obtain a job, you might not necessarily even find out unless you happen to apply for a position with the same employer (which has happened before). In fact, I’m sure that a lot of the people who actually use stolen information to get jobs think of it as a victimless crime.

However, what happens if the person using your identity to get a job doesn’t pay taxes on their earnings? The IRS will come looking for you.

One of the enduring myths of identity theft is that the person who steals your information is going to be the same person who uses it. This used to be more or less true, in the days before the Internet made things easier for criminals. These days, a more likely scenario for employment identity theft is that one entity steals information from a lot of different people, then sells it to those who need it. As I’ve often said, this is the realm of organized crime. The person who snags your Social Security Number through illicit means is just a middleman.

In other words, the standard rules apply; guard your SSN and be cautious about who you give it to.

Fraudulent job listings are a major source for this form of “retail” identity theft. You have to be extremely careful when applying for jobs online, especially during these times of high unemployment. However, don’t let your guard down when the economy recovers. This stuff is always out there.

First, never give your Social Security Number before a job interview. Any employer talking about a “preliminary background check” is already breaking the law, so you know right away that something is wrong. The second they speak of a preliminary check, refuse and move on.

Second, never provide financial information. If it’s a job that requires a credit check before hiring, they don’t need account numbers for that. They’ll need your Social Security Number, but by the time you’re actually sitting in an office with an interviewer, surrounded by employees, you’re a little safer in giving them the information. Thieves don’t often set up actual office premises—it’s too much work.

Third, be extremely vigilant when applying for jobs online. Do your homework, check up on the company, make sure any emails are from company accounts (like [nameofcompany].[com/org/net]), not free personal addresses (live.com, gmail.com, yahoo.com, etc.). Online application forms are an easy way for fraudulent web sites to harvest personal information. If they’re asking for your Social Security Number, STOP.

Finally, these are far more “work at home” scams on the Internet (and in the Classifieds, in your Inbox and stapled to telephone poles) than there are legitimate home-based job opportunities—the ratio is 54-to-1, according to one source. This means that if you’re looking at an online work-at-home offer, there is a 98% chance that it’s a scam and possibly a front for an identity theft ring. In other words, don’t even bother.

If you’re serious about working from home, your best bet is to contact a staffing agency (preferably a local one with an actual, physical office) and see if they have any leads. Or, you can start your own business and create your own income model. You either have to telecommute (traditional job, only you don’t go to the office much) or create something that people want (whether a product, information, or entertainment content) on your own, and figure out how to monetize it.